Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2012

REASON by CS Lewis

Set on the soul's acropolis the reason stands
A virgin, arm'd, commercing with celestial light,
And he who sins against her has defiled his own
Virginity: no cleansing makes his garment white;
So clear is reason.  But how dark, imagining,
Warm, dark, obscure and infinite, daughter of Night:
Dark is her brow, the beauty of her eyes with sleep
Is loaded, and her pains are long, and her delight.
Tempt not Athene.  Wound not in her fertile pains
Demeter, nor rebel against her mother-right.
Oh who will reconcile in me both maid and mother,
Who make in me a concord of the depth and height?
Who make imagination's dim exploring touch
Ever report the same as intellectual sight?
Then could I truly say, and not deceive,
Then wholly say, that I BELIEVE.

Midwinter Spring, Sempiternal Though Sodden

The syllabus for our final class today in Theological Aesthetics read "Wolterstorff and Conclusion."  I chose my warmest coat when I left my apartment this morning, but the exertion of my hurried pace made me uncomfortably warm as I rushed to class, exacerbated no doubt by the ebb and flow of anxiety about the four essay topics spinning my head.  Professor Hare arrived a few minutes late today, a first, and moved briskly through his final thoughts about Wolterstorff and unity, richness and intensity, as well as the fittingness of a work of art to the purpose of worship.  And then on to the "Conclusion" part, which we all hoped and expected would be a review for the final exam.

Professor Hare brought us back to Raphael's painting The School of Athens, in which Plato and Aristotle, the princes of philosophy, are pictured at center.  Plato points upward, Aristotle inward.  Plato indicates that the forms are beyond us, Aristotle that we find what we need by lookin…

Snow Day

I was shocked to look out the window during my Aesthetics section today and see tiny snowflakes.  Before our hourlong session was over, the flakes were enormous, falling in big clumps from the sky at a shocking rate.  This was supposed to be a day of heavy rain in the afternoon, but instead we are getting a totally unexpected snowstorm.  It's pretty cozy, but it did catch my off guard with no hat, scarf, boots, or umbrella.

I headed over to the Hall of Graduate Studies for lunch because they have cozy neo-gothic leaded windows through which the snowy courtyard looks especially romantic.  I sat there and read while I ate lunch (on sweet potato fry day, no less!) and then bumped into my good friend Anthony in the MacDougal center.  We've been sitting here all afternoon, he with his Syriac translations and me with my Dante.  It's pretty cozy.  The room is filled with other grad students who know this building is always the best-heated on campus.  I'll stay here until I …

Stormy Day

Holed up in my apartment watching Hurricane Sandy gather momentum on Trumbull Street.  I can't believe how wonderful this is - two days of classes cancelled, no real pressing danger (as far as I can tell), and extensions on both of my papers.  I had my Aesthetics paper pretty much ready to go yesterday evening, but since I had the extra time I went and reread four of Plato's dialogues that concern art and beauty, and I think my paper got about three times better.  Ditto with Dante, which I am working on now.  This makes me even more excited to work on my PhD - you (sort of) get to determine your own deadlines, or at least you have a really long time to work on papers.  It always seems odd to write these big analyses of topics I've only read once and heard a little lecture about.  Ideas get so much better when they have some time to stew and mingle with the other ideas already in your head.

I used the last hour before the storm hit to walk over to Berkeley College for some…


Prosopon is the Greek word from which we get the English word person.  I'm writing my aesthetics paper now and came across a little footnote in my notes from an Aristotle lecture that touches on a really cool idea - I shouldn't post about it because it's terribly unresearched, but if I note it here I'll remember to come back to it someday.

In ancient Greece, actors wore masks.  They showed emotions not through subtleties in facial expressions but through words and the emotions of the body.  The word prosopon is the word used for mask - "in front of a face."  
That is the term used by the early church to talk about the Trinity, the "three persons."  The notion that a prosopon, the thing in front of the face, is a person doesn't show up until several centuries into Christendom.  
This nuances the way we talk about personhood or selfhood.  It has its origin in the mask that was placed in front of an actor in a drama.

Time is Made for Man

"For time is made for man, and not man for time." - The Cloud of Unknowing

This is one of the "scraps" I've had to trim from my Dante paper, but something I hope to revisit later in this course.  It's so easy to curse time, isn't it, but here's a little selection from an e-mail I received from my dear friend Graham that I wanted to put up here for future reference:

"Malcolm [his tutor at Cambridge] went on a brilliant rant this morning--"If there is no time, there is no distinction, and if there's no distinction, there are no persons, and if there are no persons, there is no love, and everything Paul said falls to pieces. Love can't be the first and the last principle." Love is most definitely the Alpha and Omega--or rather He is love. The very best things in my life always end there. I found an awesome quote in Coleridge's marginalia about eternity: "Now where there is Life, there must be Time—and tho’ God is not in Ti…

Microwave Mug Cookie

I am in the midst of writing my big Dante paper for the semester, but something HUGE just happened that I have been working on since I started grad school:  I have finally mastered the microwave mug cookie.

It's for those long afternoons of studying when I need a freshly baked little treat and don't want the trouble of making a whole batch.  I've made several mediocre single cookies in the past year, but this one was perfection.  This one is whole wheat and vegan, but you can use real butter, milk or egg instead of water, and all purpose flour as it suits your fancy.

In a mug, mix 1 tbsp of butter (I used Earth Balance), 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp brown sugar, and a drop of vanilla extract.
Add 2 tbsp whole wheat flour, a pinch of salt, a pinch of baking soda, and a pinch of baking powder.
Mix together with the back of a spoon.  Add 1-2 tsp water.  
Add 1-2 tbsp chocolate chips.
Microwave for 45 seconds.  

Who Goes Home?

A short addition to my Ulysses post:

Who Goes Home? is the original title to C.S. Lewis' wonderful account of the journey through the afterlife, The Great Divorce.  There is much to write about Lewis' retelling (sort of) of the Divine Comedy, but right now I want to focus on one specific element.

For Lewis, the afterlife is always seen as the greatest of all possible adventures.  For Lewis, the purgative process consists of deciding to embark upon this journey.  It is questing perfected.  In the Narnia stories, heaven is referred to as "Aslan's Country" - the mountains are taller; the rivers are wider, deeper, and colder; the vegetation is unbending and rigid; the creatures are enormous, radiant, and perfect.

Lewis got it.  He felt the heat of the desire to quest.  He understood why knights engaged in chivalric conquest and fought in tourneys; he knew why Ulysses sought isle after isle; he also knows that the horizon is the one thing that is always impossible to…

Amore, L'Ardore, Valore

Love, Ardor, Valor.

These are three essential rhymes in Canto 26 of Dante's Inferno, the episode in which Dante meets Ulysses.  We just talked about this canto in class and I can't seem to move on with my day.

In The Odyssey, Ulysses spends 20 years trying to make it back to Ithaca to his wife, son, father, and kingdom, and he encounters numerous trials and temptations that impede his great journey home.  Sometimes the holdups are not his fault, but often he is taken in by a tempting woman or caught up in his own curiosity and needs to go explore.

In Dante's version, Ulysses takes his exhausted crew on a wild goose chase after who knows what.  He is not urged to return home by the amore of Penelope, for the ardore to "gain experience of the world" and learn of human valore cannot be quenched.  Remarkably, Dante rewrites the ending of the epic of all epics, turning Ulysses, the ultimate homecomer, into a man driven to death by his thirst for adventure.  Dante h…

Fraud and Fiction

Just a few little notes before bed.
Text: Inferno, Cantos 16 and 20
Dante is leading us through Malebolge, the realm of fraud in Inferno.  The worst, in his opinion.
At times self-consciously and at other times critically of others, Dante keeps talking about the inherent fraud in any work of fiction.  Fiction isn't true.  It's all made up.  And yet humans have always been compelled to create it.
How interesting that this thing which is objectively not true is one of our best ways to communicate truth.  Dante seems concerned that he is using an untrue account of hell to illuminate the evils of fraud, but he persists because he draws a line between fraud and fiction.  He's convinced he's not a hypocrite.
Fraud moves toward deceit.  Fiction is capable of truth-bearing.  I am sure every self-critical storyteller has wondered where the line is because, in order to accomplish its task, fiction must deceive the reader in some sense by creating a textual world that, becaus…

On Reading Old Books

It is actually raining too hard to go outside today.  I walked to the corner for some soup for lunch and, in spite of my rainboots, umbrella, and raincoat, I came back soaked.  Since I don't have the stamina to go to the library to pick up the Celtic literature books I've recalled, I'm sitting here getting started on my Theological Aesthetics paper that is due in a few weeks.  Just five pages, but five pages comparing Plato and Aristotle's philosophies of beauty.

Why are these guys so intimidating?  Quoting either one of them, or at least identifying their influence in any text, is like an English seminar silver bullet.  I don't know how many times I've read their respective Wikipedia articles over the past few years, trying to get a handle on ideas like forms, the Good, World Soul, nous, the allegory of the cave, the Philosopher-King, logic, the Four Causes, Universals...  I think I feel like I should be a Plato and Aristotle expert at this point, but I never…


What a difference a year makes.

Sitting at my desk, as I almost always am when I write these posts, while the gray sky threatens rain and Inferno is opened in front of me.  I've had the sense ever since I moved into this apartment that my time at Yale was going to pass in the blink of an eye, and so far it has.  As I make notes in the margins of my Inferno, I find myself wondering if I'll open the text later in life and wonder what these annotations mean.  Will I forget the hints of Anchises when Dante talks to Ciacco about the future of Florence in Canto 6?  Already, while I am still in its midst, I am trying to fight the inevitable failure of my memory.  This time is so precious to me I already desire to keep it fully present with me always, and I guess I know that will never be possible.

I will be able to keep elements of this year alive if I never let me knowledge of the Divine Comedy grow cold and keep after the text always, but there is no way to know now if that will …

The Shadow of Death

Sitting alone in my dark apartment.  We had our first summer storm today - temperatures in the high 80s, booming thunder all afternoon, big forks of lightning in the sky, short spurts of torrential rain.  I spent the day packing up for the summer.  I'm subletting my apartment so I have to clear out every shelf and drawer and closet.  I know I'm coming back in a few months, but it's a bit of a faux move-out.  It sure reminds me of my first few weeks here - hot and sticky weather, my first experience with violent summer storms, trying to deal with too many pairs of shoes and figure out storage solutions.

Just finished watching Meet Joe Black for the first time, which is why I'm up at 2:35 AM.  What a killer of an end scene.  I put it in so I'd have some company while I tidied up my room before bed and then couldn't turn it off.

I love the story about a great man.  These days I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes a human life great.  I've been so …

Highway Robbery

I dedicate this post to Uncle Dan, the original lover of gloomy weather.

I woke up at 5:00 this morning to keep chipping away at Augustine.  When I awoke the light outside was just beginning to blue, and I laid in bed for a moment listening to my wake-up song:

This polyphony, Nesciens Mater by Jean Mouton, is a Renaissance piece I heard in a lecture at the beginning of this year.  A scholar had gotten a dreamy grant to tour Italian Renaissance churches and chapels with a choir to see if Renaissance music had been composed with specific buildings in mind.  She did a study of the way the sound waves of different pieces carried through different buildings, and it was completely amazing to see the way sound for different songs filled the architectural spaces in ways that were utterly specific to the buildings.  Grand, bombastic coronation pieces bounced around the giant spaces of the biggest cathedrals with perfect symmetry, filling every corner, while these quieter, "smaller" …

Home Stretch

It's 72 degrees outside. Slightly breezy.  The trees are full of broad, green leaves again.  The semester officially ended on Friday.

And I am sitting in the Sterling Library reference room with about 40 other grad students who also got extensions on the deadline for that last paper.  The facial expressions in here are a mix of self pity and self loathing.

I feel like this:

Yes, this finals season has been great, but I am ready to leave the weird study outfits behind and start my summer!  Ahhh!!!


I've been waiting to feel an urge to write an "I can't believe it's almost summer!" post, and here it is.  In my writing this week, I've been referring quite a bit to the papers I wrote last semester and it feels like I just wrote them.  The feeling of that term paper season is still so fresh.  It feels nothing like this one.  
In a few days I'll already be half finished with my masters degree here, and then onward.  I have never felt more certain that I want to keep going on this academic path, so there will be PhD applications in the future, and many, many more projects, papers, and books, praise the Lord.  

Tonight I am filled with excitement about everything this summer will bring.  I am so looking forward to time with my family and time at home in beautiful California.  I adore what I do here in school, but there's a very nice rhythm to an academic year that provides a lazy three months for reflection and regeneration.  It feels like getting awa…

Oboedientia Caritatis

Translation: "harmonious obedience of mutual love"

"What makes this Oboedientia Caritatis possible is the right priority of love.  Abel chose God, not himself, as his good, and in so doing he fixed on the only object of desire that others can share without rivalry or fear of loss.  Not only can they share such a love, they can actually increase it by doing so.  Less can become more, and living partnership can be, not a compromise of power, but a source:

"A man's possession of goodness is in no way diminished by the arrival, or the continuance, of a sharer in it."

This is a little selection form an article I'm reading by my adviser, Peter Hawkins, about Augustine in the Divine Comedy.  Dante mentions so many influential Christian figures and mysteriously passes over Augustine until he gets a one-line mention in the vision of heaven.  Strange!

Yet Augustine's influence can't be avoided.  In this passage, Hawkins is looking at Augustine's exeg…

Finals Food

I am proud of myself for using all of my meal points before the end of the semester - it was a close one, but I managed it.

Now I am eating all of the food left in my apartment, which is mostly a lot of grains.  I have accumulated a lot of whole wheat cous cous, quinoa, and red lentils.

After 9 hours at my desk with my Augustine paper, I caved in, walked across street to Caseus (the gourmande's Mecca of New Haven) and had a chocolate soufflé so delicious it deserved its own blog post.

Back to Augustine.  

The Familiar Melodies

Any of you have memories of this music?  It's the closing title from the Little Women soundtrack.  Every time I sit up late at night with a book and a pen I become Jo March all over again.

Throughout this school year, at the most critical moments I have been visited by memories of how intensely and singularly I wanted to go to graduate school in the years before I applied.  As soon as I graduated from college - really within weeks - I had a fervent longing to be back in the classroom.

While I was home for a few days over spring break, I ran into a good friend Kamron who was a few years behind me at Pepperdine.  He and I were once in a 12 passenger van together with 9 other people to drive the entire length of historic Route 66 in the dead of winter.  There was a lot of time to chat.

He asked me all about my life at Yale and I filled him in on every detail - my areas of study, my professors, my apartment, my friends - and after a few minutes I noticed he had tears in his eyes a…

The Gentleman Christ

Day four in my 6' x 6' office.  Cloudy and cold outside, and I am very glad the spring glory has toned down so I can write my papers this week.  Just 7 more days and my masters degree is 50% over.  
I've had lovely company with the marvelous Julian of Norwich and her Revelations of Divine Love.  I'm writing a paper about the fascinating things she says about courtesy - specifically the courtesy God shows to us and the courtesy that should direct our disposition toward him and each other.  
Describing one of her revelations, she says:
"God also showed me that sin is not shameful to man, but his glory; for in this revelation my understanding was lifted up into heaven; and then there came truly into my mind David, Peter and Paul, THomas of India and the Magdalene - how they are famous in the Church on earth with their sins as their glory.  And it is no shame to them that they have sinned, any more than it is in the bliss of heaven, for there the badge of their sin is…

Hello Again!

So many weeks with no posting!  Schoolwork has heated up bigtime, and now that I am in my first finals-season crunch, I naturally must write a blog post.

The weather has been SPECTACULAR lately.  Mid 70s for the past 4 days and this afternoon it climbed up to 83!  I put on my Pepperdine hat and headed to the beach with my Rossetti text and read my poems for class tomorrow while lying on a blanket.  It wasn't Broad Beach but it really wasn't too bad, and now I have a funny little tanline on my leg to remember the occasion.

Easter deserves a proud mention here.  Celebrating Easter at a Divinity School is just about as fun as I can imagine Easter ever being.  Yale Divinity School has an extraordinarily diverse student population, but the one common thread is that almost everyone thinks Easter is the best day of the year.  I went to a 3 hour Easter vigil at St. Mary's on Saturday night in which a friend became Catholic, then on Sunday I helped my friend Anthony cook dinner f…

Friends by Candlelight

My friend and professor Junius said the other day that being a good writer is 5% being a good writer and 95% not being distracted by the internet.


It's 1:28 AM on Monday morning - I've just finished a three-day weekend that in spite of my best intentions has landed me once again in the wee hours with the lamps lit.  I have very little required work left and I know I must get to it and get to bed if I want to make anything of tomorrow, but the texts before me won't be shut.

My Victorian Poetry class has been my hardest one of the semester.  It has the smallest workload, but three pages of poems mean truly endless hours of research and grappling.  Tomorrow we'll begin a four-week unit on Robert Browning.  I know nothing about him except that he really loved his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the two of them loved Italy, and he chose Shelley as his poetic godfather.

I picked up a few of Harold Bloom's collections of Browning criticism and I am awed.  Harol…

Brother Sun, Sister Moon

I just gave my first real lecture - Teaching Fellows here give one of the main lectures every semester, and I chose to do mine on Saint Francis and the erotic allegory of divine love.  I didn't know what to expect, but it went wonderfully and I had a great time.  My own students, the ones in my section, were absolutely wonderful - I could tell they went out of their way to ask lots of questions and engage with the material.  I think they will deserve a special treat at next week's section. 
So I talked about St. Francis who is best known for preaching to the birds and loving animals.  The collection of his hagiographical writings is called "The Little Flowers of St. Francis."
But he was no sissy!  He traveled to Egypt to meet with the sultan in the middle of a crusade (he wanted to try to convert the sultan through conversation instead of war), fought in some battles himself, and was really hardcore about his vow of poverty.  But his main thing in life was joy - all…

The Old Law

After my Old Testament class last semester I was forced to confront my longtime questions about the relevance of the Old Testament - especially the long, dreary lists of weird and crazy laws.

Are we supposed to obey these laws still?

I don't know.  I don't think so, but that's not the point.

Spending your life trying to obey the laws is one way to guarantee misery.  For starters, you'll fail, and even where you do succeed you'll expect some sort of recognition that God frankly doesn't care to give.  That's not the way to know him or serve him.  Laws are dangerous things because they can be so easily misused, both by people in authority (especially authority over children who dearly long to please the grownups they love) and by the strict self-governing types.  It spells misery.

This could be a long post about why observance of the law is a risky priority, but tonight I'd just like quickly to propose a thought about why it's in there (and why it …

The Owners of Melancholy

"For there where love wounds is the moan rising from the wound, and it ever cries out in the feeling of his absence."

 - St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle

Brief pause here in the middle of writing a Victorian Poetry paper.

I am writing about C. A. Swinburne and the way he has been tidily categorize as an atheist.  No, he isn't a Christian, and yes, he is quite angry at the Church.  He feels as though he's been led on by those who would have him believe a fairy tale that isn't true.  He revolts against the notion that we are to live a life without fear or pain because God has a plan that will someday make it all better.

Swinburne's landscapes are melancholy.  He paints wastelands that prefigure Eliot's.  His world is metaphysically bleak, but physically charged with the power of nature, and there's something about the natural world that won't allow him to stop asking questions about what life really means.

It's not fair to cut Ch…

Salad Memory

I took this picture two years ago - it's a salad I ate at the Getty Villa in Malibu.  
I'm fixating on this salad memory - January, warm, sunny.  Sitting outside looking at the Villa, the gardens, the ocean beyond.  
Eating this gorgeous, simply composed meal.
Oh California, you seem so far.

Never More Myself

‎"In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do."

C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

Weekly Gratitude

It's a Monday morning and I've been sitting at my desk since 5:00 reading Victorian elegies.  These Victorian poets can really rope me in emotionally - they have a way of juxtaposing the harshness of life with crushing beauty, and more often than not they leave the tension unresolved.  Death and sorrow are always closely linked to life and joy, but there's the feeling that all happiness is cruelly ephemeral.

The sun just came up down at the end of Trumbull Street and came streaming into my study, and it pierced my heart with a shock of gratitude for this new day.  I am grateful this morning for the abundance of hope I feel for my uncertain future, and that even though I don't yet know my next steps, for the time being I have landed in a place where my greatest joys are my daily tasks.  We have another cold and sunny week forecasted in New Haven, and I am so glad I get to spend it doing the schoolwork I love so much.

It Got Even Better

The beginning of this semester was chaotic.  I had a horrible cold for the first week and then contracted an excruciating muscle spasm in my neck that immobilized my whole upper body.  I couldn't make my schedule work, my adviser is on sabbatical this semester, and I wound up in a weird selection of classes.  I have been panicked that this term would again place me in the panic of last term's finals week, and frankly I didn't think I had the steam to do it again.  My energy and morale were low.

BUT - my cold went away (definitely because Greer came to visit and was such an excellent weekend nurse), my neck thing gradually disappeared, and a TA position that had been up in the air ended up coming through.  The class is called "Representations of Love in Italy" and it's the dream syllabus.  We started with Plato (yes, not Italian, I know) and so far have done Catullo and Ovid, and will move through the ages with Italian writers in love.  It's just fantasti…

Farewell 2011

To pick up where I left off on that horrible mid-term-paper cliffhanger, I am happy to report that I finished all my papers on time (counting the two two-day extensions I got) and submitted the last one ON the plane from Syracuse to LAX (thank you Delta for 30 minutes free in-flight Wi-Fi).  I got home, crashed in bed, and enjoyed the beautiful Christmas that my mom staged in our house.  Sometimes I can't believe how pretty that little house has become over the years.  
These guys went back to the library:

I went to Fort Drum to visit Greer for a few days before heading home (he let me try on his kevlar):

And I got down to seaside lounging ASAP when I arrived in LA:

Mom and Dad gave us another completely perfect Christmas, and looked great doing it:

I got to be festive (and honor a gingerbread tradition) with some of my favorite LA ladies:

I rejoiced to be in beautiful, warm, sunny California:

Got to fly to Jupiter, Florida for an old friend's spectacular wedding:

And returne…